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Sir Trevor Chinn

Giving to charity is deeply embedded in Jewish life and teaching. The Hebrew word for charity, Tzedakah, means righteousness, for charity is a duty.

Sir Trevor Chinn

Personal story

I am very fortunate that I had a wonderful example from my father, who not only gave to charity but also involved himself actively in a number of charities. Giving to charity is deeply embedded in Jewish life and teaching. The Hebrew word for charity, Tzedakah, means righteousness, for charity is a duty.

In Eastern Europe, Jews had charitable organisations for all aspects of communal life – the poor, the sick, the handicapped, for refugees. Everyone was supposed to give to charity; even a pauper was obligated to contribute a nominal sum. Maimonides, the medieval philosopher, ranked forms of giving – the highest form is to help someone to help himself. The next, where the giver and recipient are anonymous to each other. So charity is not a choice.

Jewish teaching also encompasses the particular and the universal aspects of our lives. We have to look after our own, the particular. We must also play our full part in society, the universal. Since I was young I have been involved in Jewish charitable activities, particularly the social development of Israel and the alleviation of poverty there, being for many years Chairman of the Joint Israel Appeal. I was for 10 years, 1995-2005, President of Norwood, a charity helping those with learning difficulties and with problems of family break-down.

Fifteen years ago I was instrumental in setting up the Jewish Association of Business Ethics, propagating the huge body of Jewish teaching and regulation on this subject. I have always been actively involved in charities in the wider society. For many years I supported the Variety Club Children’s Charity, serving as Chief Barker in 1977 and 1978. From 1979 to 1988 I was a Trustee and Chairman of the Friends of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I had the privilege of being Vice Chairman of the Wishing Well Appeal for Great Ormond St. Hospital and of leading the fundraising campaign. In the 1990s I was Vice Chairman of Hampstead Theatre and from 1995-2004 Deputy Chairman of the Royal Academy Trust. Now I am really excited that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has asked me to chair the Mayor’s Fund for London. My wife, Susan, is also very involved in charitable work. She has been involved for 30 years with Great Ormond St. Hospital, starting as a volunteer and finishing as a Special Trustee. She now chairs very effectively the Development Council of the National Theatre and is a member of its Board.

Four of the six most deprived boroughs in Britain are in London and they are probably the most deprived in Western Europe.

For me, whilst it is important to"give to good causes" as I do, my charitable giving has been led by my charitable activities. That means that a large proportion of my giving has been where I am asking others to give, as I strongly believe in the importance of example.

I have always been concerned about high standards of governance in charities where I have taken a leadership role. There are many differences between the voluntary sector and business, but one crucial similarity must be quality governance and transparency.

There is a major issue in society today in regard to the huge growth in wealth, the level of inequality, and the decreasing proportion of GDP being given to charity. I believe that we should set standards for charitable giving to which successful people should be encouraged to aspire – such as a percentage of income or a percentage of wealth – the greater the wealth, the higher the percentage.

We need to ‘train’ people to give and to enjoy the pleasure that comes from doing what is right in helping others. What is often not realised is that charity does not only depend on givers, it also depends on askers. So we have to encourage more successful people to apply their skills and motivation to charitable activities and thus as both askers and givers play a crucial role in our society. Finally, the Mayor’s Fund for London.

I had no idea of the scale of poverty and deprivation in our great city of London, and I am sure that many others do not realise it. London is at the same time the richest city in Europe and the poorest city in Europe. Four of the six most deprived boroughs in Britain are in London and they are probably the most deprived in Western Europe. In Inner London 50% of children are born into poverty. In the last 10 years, 600,000 children in Britain have been taken out of poverty; in London the figures have not changed at all. This is a huge and complex problem. But something has to be done about it. Successful and affluent London cannot stand by and accept this situation.

There are some very successful initiatives. We have to help them grow and replicate. We need to work with the GLA, the London boroughs and central Government as well as other funders and deliverers of services. We are developing a strategic plan of how to make a difference. We will then need support and to co-ordinate all involved so that together we implement focussed, long-term initiatives. Success will depend on collaborations. It will also depend on the support of private and corporate philanthropy – money, time and effort. Sir Trevor Chinn CVO is Chair of the Mayor’s Fund for London.

from Philanthropy UK Newsletter, September 2008

This personal story is tagged under

  • Faith
  • Causes
  • Family philanthropy